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Layman's Walk

The Longest September

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It may be October 22, but it has taken me this long to be able to think about all the events of the past six weeks to put “pen to paper,” so to speak.

September 2021 was a month of tremendous change.  On the first, I began a full-time internship with the disciples of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Springfield.  This has been a tremendous joy over the last six weeks and I am both thrilled and thankful to have them as my “teaching congregation” during this final year of my seminary training.

Taking a full-time internship meant quitting my job, which was a big step.  Not because I hadn’t quit a job before, but because I was walking away from a position I liked at an organization I was quite fond of.  And it paid well, too.  I have been the breadwinner in my house since Kari and I were married and voluntarily walking away from that resource was a real challenge for me.  My internship pays—but all of that is standardized across the ELCA and, as you might have guessed, with the title “intern,” you can imagine it is not much.  This isn’t a “Woah is me” statement; we knew this was coming and had prepared for this year knowing what we were getting into.  But like jumping out of an airplane, there’s a difference between gearing up and taking the leap.

Kari also started working outside of the home for the first time since Addison was about six weeks old.  (That’s 13 years for those who are counting.)  She’s working three days a week as a teacher’s aide at Lincoln Elementary.  She works primarily with students who need some extra help in some way or another and she is both enjoying it immensely and excelling at it.  This experience combined with the master of arts in Children Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary will be extremely beneficial as she looks to be a youth leader for a congregation in the future. I am so incredibly happy for her and immensely proud of her.

Of course, with new jobs come new responsibilities and new schedules.  So we are slowly adapting to new life patterns and trying to figure out how to best meet the needs of ourselves, each other, and those of our four children.  There never seems to be enough time in the day and I rarely seem to have enough energy.

In the first month of my full-time work in ministry, I have had so many opportunities to be present with people–both in joy and in suffering.  I have already participated in funerals of three people who have died in tragic ways—all too young, and all so, so sad.  As someone who will be a pastor, I must learn how to be present with people in their grief while not being overcome by it.  But these were hard.  I grieved with these families.  I found myself identifying with all of them vicariously and strongly.  And when I was done with my responsibilities with each service and found myself in private, I wept.  I was overcome with the sadness these families were feeling.

All of this was coupled with the sudden death of my dad on the 21st.  He managed to ruin my favorite Earth Wind and Fire song. Now my lyrics are “Do you remember, the 21st night of September? I was wishing that I was a pretender, while waiting for planes at Midway.”

(I use [dumb] humor as a coping mechanism.  Probably partially to how much my dad literally joked about death.  I’m sure it was a way to make light of the inevitable.)

After having spent the remainder of that week (Tuesday night through Sunday) grieving heavily and surrounded by family and friends, I thought I had processed his death and come to terms with it.

I haven’t.

Stupid songs, characters from movies, old stories, random memories put lumps in my throat or turn me into a blubbering mess.  It passes, usually in a few minutes, but I’m reminded that I’m not done with this yet—even though I thought I was and had hoped I was.

As a person of faith and one who is going to be a pastor, I have approached this through the lens of God’s grace and the promise of the resurrection.  This is well and good and has been very helpful.  But it doesn’t make me not miss my Dad.  It doesn’t stop me from lamenting for times gone by and opportunities missed.  But it does make some of my best memories even sweeter because I know there is hope for life in Christ and that our deaths on Earth are not the final chapter.

But it doesn’t change the brokenness of my world and the loss I feel in my life.  Or in the lives of others. There is so much sadness; so much misery.  There is so much grief and loss.

I attended a grief group for the first time a week or so ago—primarily as a learning opportunity—but I could not help but have my heart break for those who shared their stories.  I would imagine this was partly because of the grief I was experiencing myself, but oh my—how little we realize the grief and suffering that those around us are experiencing.

Friends, please, please be kind to people—especially those who you feel are being especially mean or rude.  People everywhere around us are experiencing grief and trauma and we are so rarely aware of it.  Sometimes they are trying to hold their feelings back and they express themselves in ways they normally wouldn’t. Because those strong emotions will not be stifled.  They will come out–in some way, shape, or form.

Please Just give them grace.  Give them the benefit of the doubt.  Show them love–even when they seem unlovable.

It won’t make the world perfect by any means.  But it will make it just a little bit better.


I’m done rambling for now.  But I feel a lot better.    🙂


God’s peace to each of you.


Layman's Walk

See You When You Get Here

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Tuesday, September 21, 2021 was one of the worst days of my life.

Yesterday, my dad died.

While he had been suffering from mucosis-fungeoid (a very rare full-body skin cancer) for several years, he took an unexpected turn. Suddenly, he was gone.

Kari, the kids, and I had just spent Labor Day weekend with my folks. Dad and I fried up some fish and other goodies. The eight of us had a round-robin cornhole/bags tournament. We played several games of six-handed euchre. It was a lovely weekend.

Just this past Friday, mom and dad had come over to Morton for the pumpkin fest. Dad was doing much worse than he had just a few weeks prior. All of his skin was so dry, including his throat—making it really hard for him to eat, drink, or even speak.

He had stayed at my house that afternoon while my mom, Kari, and the kids went uptown to the Pumpkin Festival. I got home not long after they had left. I had been at a funeral in Springfield that morning.

I spoke to dad and was surprised at how hard it was for him to speak because of his dry throat. He was sipping water from a bottle. I saw down on the couch opposite of him to watch some TV with him and I fell asleep—I was exhausted from the morning. When I woke up, he had moved from the chair to the couch opposite the one I was laying on. When I woke up, he was just watching me. He said “Little nap!” as I woke up and I chuckled saying I was apparently more tired than I realized.

Shortly after, everyone else came back home. Dad seemed tired too, and quietly got up and walked to my room and fell asleep in my spot on my bed. We woke him a little later when Mom was ready to head home. Dad was so tired and weak I had to hold him up by the arm to walk him to the car and lift and turn his legs in for him. I buckled his seatbelt for him and told him I loved him and he told me he loved me. Those were the last words we exchanged.

Mom called me at six yesterday morning in a panic saying she was at the ER and they were asking whether to intubate Dad. She said they told her he wouldn’t survive regardless. I know my dad had always said he wished for a quick death. The idea of life as an invalid, or suffering from a long-term disease, or being in a nursing home were personal hells for him, but I couldn’t bear to just let him go so quickly, so I told me to have them get him on a ventilator.

He had fallen unconscious before the ambulance had arrived at their house and he never regained consciousness. Chrissy got the call from Mom at 1:00 a.m. local time in Honolulu and took the earliest flight available to Chicago. She wouldn’t land until about 10:30 that night. We tried to keep Dad alive until she could get there to say goodbye in person. We had held the phone to his ear later that morning for her to talk with him.

As the morning moved into afternoon, even the medicine being used to artificially prop up his blood pressure was becoming ineffective. Mom and I each had some time alone with Dad, and not long after, his blood pressure began rapidly falling and his pulse when from a steady 115 bpm to an irregular 60, then single digits, then none. He died at 2:42 p.m. with Mom and me at his side.

I haven’t fully processed all of this yet. My grief comes in fits and starts. There have been moments of overwhelming sadness and moments of strength and determination. I suppose I will oscillate between these two poles for a while.

While I am fully confident in the resurrection promised to us in our baptisms in the death of Christ, it does not relieve one’s grief. It does not relieve one of the empathy they feel when a loved one breaks down as their grief shreds their heart and they cry with guttural sobs. It doesn’t stop the overwhelming emotion one feels when they see a beloved relative they haven’t seen in some time walk up with open arms offering a strong and comforting bear hug. It doesn’t take away the today-pain. It lessons it, and gives me comfort conceptually and spiritually, but it doesn’t fill that void that has been riven open in my heart. Those wounds are still real and they are miserable.

I have sadly received my membership card to the club that no one wishes to join, that of people who have lost a parent. I know there are so many people who share this experience—and that almost all people will eventually, but it doesn’t make my own experience any less painful.

But as my dad would say, “it is what it is. See you when you get here.”